Ever have those weeks where life keeps hitting you over the head with the same two-by-four? Or maybe its more subtle, like recurring road signs saying “Pull over, deal with this now!” Sometimes it’s for the betterment of your character, other times it points to places in your life where you’ve sprung a leak – and happiness is leaking out by trickles or bucketfuls.
I’ve been experiencing such a week. The first road sign on my journey to self-actualization was while reading C.S. Lewis. In Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he touches on the concept of busyness and empathy as distractions from experiencing true pleasure. Seemingly innocuous things in our daily life may be strangling our ability to experience joy. They steal our time, our drive, and our passion for life and action. Maybe I can give you a few examples to which you can relate: the internet, social media, gossip, Netflix, endless theoretical debate, materialism, fantasizing, and worry. Maybe we are a sedentary people both physically and spiritually because we spend too much time talking, typing, thinking and not enough time acting. C.S. Lewis discussed that where we have passionate likes and dislikes we will act, but when we get caught up in mediocre likes, we stagnate. There is so much challenge in the word, stagnant: “stale or foul from standing; characterized by lack of development, advancement, or progressive movement; inactive, sluggish, dull. Powerful, isn’t it? No one likes to think of their life as stale, foul, or dull. Maybe we have deceived ourselves into thinking that our busyness of mind and body will provide the excitement, pleasure and achievement that we ultimately seek. This leads me to my second road sign: my mom recommended a series entitled “The Peace and Power of a Prioritized Life” by Chip Ingram. He provided a list of Six Symptoms of Misplaced Priorities: busyness, undue stress and pressure, low grade nagging guilt, financial debt, prayerlessness, and excessive behavior. Any of these sound familiar? The mirage leads to a lot of dissatisfaction.
Sign number three – yesterday, NPR aired a story about a scientist who studies happiness in humans. His study showed that irrespective of what activity people were engaged in at any given moment, if they were distracted or their mind was wandering and not focused on the task, they described themselves as less satisfied. This tells me that we were not created to have divided minds. The old adage of whatever you do, do it with all of your heart, mind and soul. The scientist also found that people today are less happy than people 20-30 years ago. My theory is that there is simply more “noise” than there was back then. Being a 30-year-old whose life straddles this gap, I feel this in every fiber of my being. And not to solely blame the internet and technology for our society’s degradation of happiness, I think we simply have too much at our fingertips. Everything is available to us, and in abundance. We have a million choices to make everyday! I remember when only the original Oreo was available in stores, and then the twice as delicious Double-stuff was created. Now there’s like 15 flavors of Oreo…Some advancements are great, some are noise. Maybe our happiness struggle is a battle with quality vs. quantity. We have lost our ability to determine what is true pleasure and pseudo pleasure. We need to relearn how to experience rich, deep, satisfying moments, the difference between passion and mediocrity, and how to have an undivided heart and lead an undivided life.